Model Louise Wong makes her acting debut starring as Cantopop legend Anita Mui in Anita. And she believes the late singer was watching over her as she was filming the biopic.
In an interview with local media, the 32-year-old says: "There were plenty of times when I felt her presence. There was a concert scene and I wasn't feeling well that day. But once the cameras started to roll, there was some magic that made me give my all. I think she was watching over me."
The film, directed by Longman Leung, opens in cinemas today and comes 18 years after Mui died at the age of 40 in 2003 due to cervical cancer.
It traces her life from child performer - with her sister Ann at the now-demolished Lai Chi Kok Amusement Park - to Cantopop superstar. It delves into her love life, her controversies, her philanthropy and her battle with cancer.
The film opened earlier this month in Hong Kong and has topped the box office there. It also made more than 10 million yuan (S$2.14 million) in China on its opening day.
To prepare for her role as the Madonna Of Asia, as Mui was once called, Wong went through more than six months of intensive training, including acting, singing and dancing lessons.
She says it was tough leaving the role behind after filming wrapped.
"I definitely felt very empty. I went to learn horseback riding, picked up cooking and did things that Louise Wong really wanted to do to find myself again," she says.
Aside from finding the right actress to play Mui, Leung, 49, also had to recreate a bygone era of Hong Kong by using a combination of computer graphics and physical sets.
He jokes: "My crew never let me see the budget. Every time they asked me, 'Do you really want this scene?' or 'Do you really want this song?'. But when they didn't let me see the budget, that's when I knew it was expensive.
"Sometimes I told my crew, 'If it's too expensive, let's scrap it.' But they didn't let me give up."
Mui is not the only late icon portrayed in Anita. Hong Kong actor Terrance Lau (Beyond The Dream, 2019) plays movie star and singer Leslie Cheung, who took his life in 2003, nine months before Mui's death. Cheung and Mui were close friends and they starred in the 1988 movie Rouge together.
Lau, 33, says: "I tend to be a more melancholic, sensitive person. I think that's similar to Gege ("elder brother", a nickname for Cheung), who was also sensitive and had a vulnerability to him. That's why his emotions were so fluid when he was performing."
Malaysian actress Fish Liew, 31, plays Mui's sister Ann, who also died of cervical cancer several years prior to Mui. She had to ditch her Malaysian accent for the movie.
She says: "I thought my Cantonese is already pretty good, but my accent doesn't have the feel of a Hong Konger in the 1970s and 1980s and my Malaysian accent slips out."
The film also stars veteran actors like Louis Koo, who plays Mui's costume designer Eddie Lau, and Gordon Lam as record label executive So Hau Leung.
Lam (Hand Rolled Cigarette, 2020) says that looking back at Mui's life through the film moved him. The 54-year-old recalls a scene, based on real events, in which Mui asks to wear a wedding dress onstage for her last concert before her death.
"She says she wants to marry herself to the stage. If you love acting, performing and singing, you love being onstage and in front of the camera. Sometimes I feel like that too, that if I died onstage, it'll be a good ending for me. I was very touched by that scene. She is responsible not only to herself, but also to her fans and supporters."
Wong shares his sentiments.
"I played Anita in her teens to her life's end, so I lived almost her entire life through the film. I experienced the way she faced her lows, how she picked herself back up and, in the later stage of her life, how she helped a younger generation of stars, and her never-give-up attitude.
"I believe that she is someone who really loves and wants to inspire other people."
- Anita opens today.